X server for original PC (8088/8086)

Ken Seefried seefriek at gmail.com
Mon Aug 22 19:26:34 CDT 2016

From: tony duell <ard at p850ug1.demon.co.uk>
> On Fri, Aug 19, 2016 at 5:56 PM, Steven M Jones <classiccmp at crash.com> wrote:
>> Before anyone gets too excited about the blistering speed of the 60
>> MHz TMS34010, ... However, since it has a
>> graphics-optimized instruction set, it was still able to do some
>> things noticeably faster than the 16 MHz 80186 would have.

Price/performance for the tms34010 was terrible; it was somewhat
faster at graphics (bit-oriented) ops than an 80186 (or other
contemporary processor), but it was several times more expensive.  TI
tried to sell around that by claiming it was a complete general
purpose processor in addition to graphics processor so you could build
a whole system using the tms34010 as the brains.  Unfortunately, if
you actually did that, you found that it could manage kbd/mouse/net
*or* do graphics, but not really both.

It was also integer-only, and had a slow, 16-bit memory interface that
killed performance unless you used expensive VRAMs (this was before
VGA made VRAM cheap).

And TIGA never really took off.

Bonus: the development tools were pretty awful.  One of the weirder C
compilers I've used.

Intel came up with the i82786 around the same time that was cheaper,
and it looked like you could cook up a cheap 80186+82786 X Term setup
that would be competitive.  However, I never saw a product like that,
just a couple of PC/AT plugin cards (Belltech BLIT).

> Somewhere I have a thing badged 'Princeton Ultra-X'...It uses an 80188 for I/O
> (including 10Mbps ethernet). The Xserver is in EPROMs and appears to run on
> the TMS34010 graphics processor.

Yup...I worked for the company that designed those.  Good times
(really...I learned a *lot* about a lot of things), but glad I was an
ops guy and not an engineer or developer.  There were probably 20
other shops making X Terminals at the same time, 'cause that was the
future.  I recall having stacks to play with because the market for
them evaporated far sooner than marketing predicted.


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